Connect Hackney

Older people are organising their own groups, courses and trips to enjoy lifelong learning together, explains Connect Hackney volunteer Antonia Folivi

University of the Third Age (U3A) started in France and in the beginning, in 1972, the model was a university. The model here is different – it’s not based on a university.

Here, it is retired people who have experience and skills that they can give to other older people – so it’s a shared learning experience. Our slogan is, “We learn for the pleasure of it. No qualifications are required and none are given. ”

It’s an opportunity for people to meet each other and learn from each other. There’s no certificate at the end of it. It’s lifelong learning – there’s no restriction in age.


In Hackney it started in 2006 and we have 200 members and activities ranging from philosophy and current affairs to a science group – there’s different groups. You choose what you are really interested in. Trips to the seaside are always fun.

There’s languages like German or French. Or you go to a local cinema – there’s a group that watches a film every month and someone from the cinema comes to give them a talk on that.

I enjoy it enormously. We have an autobiography group, badminton, bridge, cinema, creative writing, drama… we have something for everyone.

You have to be holistic – as we feed our body, we have to feed our mind so the grey matter can continue. We hear so much about dementia – this helps make people active. You’re doing exercise, you’re eating good food to prolong life – you need that brain too.

We have a Scrabble group, and then for relaxation we have opera society, different types of music, whatever you like. And there is a walking group. There are two groups – a long walk and another one, exploring London.

That is so fascinating for me, because I’ve lived in this place almost half a century and there are places I do not know. Exploring London gives you gems of places that you never knew existed.

We go to museums and places that you might just pass on the bus but you didn’t know about. That is really good – on the walks they look at landmarks.

You can join Hackney U3A to get involved. We have an annual subscription of £10. And because we are affiliated to the umbrella group, the Third Age Trust, they send literature and things like that to us. If you want to subscribe to that you pay an added £4, so it is £14 a year, which is quite reasonable.

We are not funded by anybody. We are self-funded, and when you go on trips you pay always about £5 or £6. Most of the things that we visit, like museums, sometimes it’s free or sometimes we pay but it’s minimal, it’s affordable.

We have a publication called What’s On, which is bi-monthly and it tells you all the activities. Most activities take place in the library, or sometimes people’s homes if they are willing to have it there.

We have a monthly meeting, which is usually at Homerton Library on the third Tuesday of the month at 10.30am, a get-together (but phone to confirm the venue first). There we have interesting people to visit. Recently we had someone who came to talk to us about the London Underground and the history of it.

Next time, we’re going to have someone who has visited Robben Island in South Africa and the prison (where Nelson Mandela was held). Different sorts of people come to speak to us.

But there are still a lot of other things to do. We want diversity, we want other people to join us. There’s something for everybody. It’s just interesting, it’s just – I cannot describe it. You know when you enjoy something and it’s giving you such pleasure you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. You should let other people know.

It gives you added impetus for life, zest for life, that you can do something. And the beauty of it is that it’s among your age group. There’s no inhibition, it boosts your confidence and you can share. Every month we have cake and tea and we have nice times.

The person who is the facilitator for the folk dancing group is 80-something or 90-something. She’s so energetic.

You see the beauty of it is that it’s your age group teaching you something. You could be a teacher or someone facilitating a group, or going along and just enjoying something yourself. It’s incredible. And it’s right in the heart of Hackney. We want more people to come and join us.

How to get involved

You can find out about the huge range of activities and groups organised by Hackney U3A on its website, at or by phoning 07526 093695.

There are lots of different groups up and running, so there really is something for everyone. Join in and learn what you like!